Verbal Magic by Juan Tamariz and Gema Navarro

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2008)

Verbal Magic

"Today I'll introduce myself as who I really am, because I have you all fooled, I am actually the devil: Juan Beelzebub Satan Tamariz. And my sole purpose is to make you give in to temptation. And you will fall and this is incredible with great pleasure."

With those words (and the truths they contain), Juan Tamariz begins his performance of a trick called "Temptation." And his audience is listening to that performance on the radio.

How can you do magic on the radio? The public is often surprised to learn that such a feat is even possible, but professional magicians are often called upon to do that very thing. Dunninger made his reputation doing mentalism on radio (in the days of Edgar Bergen doing ventriloquism in that unlikely setting), and although the literature on the subject is slender, to say the least, Banachek has produced an audio CD set of mentalism designed for the medium.

It's one thing to be asked to make the occasional radio appearance I've made a number of those myself over the years. There are methods and plots that readily lend themselves to radio, especially if the performance is live, and there is the chance for feedback and interaction with the host, or better yet, the home audience via telephone. That's one thing.

But then there's another thing, and it's name is Juan Tamariz. As he writes in his introduction to Verbal Magic, "...the mere word impossible and the intrinsic challenge it carries encouraged me to perform tricks on the radio. ... Problems arose, though, when the program didn't have a direct telephone connection with the listeners or when the broadcast wasn't done live. ... I began to conceive ways of doing tricks the radio listeners or television viewers could follow step by step without need of interactive feedback with me."

When Tamariz sets his relentless sights on a magical task, you can rest assured the results will be beyond most reasonable expectations. He continued to develop and perform radio and television magic over three decades of his career, and then, in 2003, he became a regular weekly guest on a Spanish radio program. "Each week," he writes, "I would perform magic in the listener's hands, without resorting to the usual 'telephone tricks'."

The result beyond his exceptional success on the show is this book, Verbal Magic, an unusual work in several respects. First, there is the focus of the subject matter magic that works without the audience viewing or interacting with the magician. Also, that despite much of the magic we normally associate with Tamariz, there is the fact that this is, by definition, a book of self-working tricks. And finally, this is a book that really will do magic for you if you're willing to do your part. It is an audacious and charming conception.

What does that last point mean? It means that the descriptions of these tricks are, by and large, uncluttered by methodological instruction. Tamariz's collaborator, Gema Navarro, has carefully transcribed all of his radio performances and, with substantial imagination and clearly, as she recounts in her own introduction, a great deal of work, has attempted to recapture for the page a sense of the maestro's performance. Hence, the reader can, with props in hand, follow the instructions and, in short order promptly fool himself.

Each trick is followed by performance notes where necessary, and the pertinent methodological credits and analysis. As one might guess, here you will find applications of clever mathematical forces, duck and deal procedures, the automatic placement, Anti Faros, the Finnell Free Cut Principle, CATO principle, Gilbreath principle, Stay-Stack system, and more. And these principles are not limited to the use of playing cards; much of this material can be done with pieces of paper with numbers or letters, and tricks adaptable with coins, matches, paper clips, and the like.

So far, it should be clear that anyone specifically interested in performing this kind of magic apparently interactive magic that works on television and radio, without live feedback or connection to the audience will find an unprecedented professional resource in this book. But this is really the minimum view of these contents, a perspective that might in fact overlook its greatest strengths.

Because one of the more remarkable aspects of this material is the fact that there are tricks here about good and evil; joy and sadness; lovers and devils; truth and falsity; sex and violence. You can protest the war in Iraq, or the American president. You can perform a version of the Card to Pocket using the spectator's own pocket. You can achieve an accurate prediction that spectators confirm in their local newspaper. And you can even do a book test with an unprepared book found at the audience's home.

What's more, the many mathematical principles named above the Stay Stack, for example have been carefully applied so as to thoroughly conceal the procedures and mechanics, using precise scripting, imaginative presentations, and clever psychology. Tamariz has created a series of presentational devices that consistently help to erase the mechanical drudgery of such procedures, presenting them as rituals and incantations rites and spells coupled with a celebration of the magical effect.

Indeed, these skills have long been a hallmark of Tamariz's work the ability to conceal method, to disguise procedure, to erase and rewrite the audience's recollection of events, to maximize and celebrate the magical effect. This book provides a blueprint for how he manages to achieve these almost impossible goals with the most difficult material in the most challenging of circumstances. Hence, there are lessons here that, I believe, penetrate far deeper into the unique talents of their creator than might be apparent at first blush, and that are applicable far more widely beyond the limits of this narrowly defined style of material.

In fact, in an introductory chapter about "Defining Out Subject," the authors flatly declare that "This kind of magic is more difficult than it seems," requiring "a high level of applied psychology and voice technique." They point out that "this kind of magic is not for beginners, unless they ... devote both time and thought to convey the impression of the magic arising from the power of the magician, who transmits it through the spoken word, not unlike the officiant of any religious or magical ritual ... . The combination of three elements personality, words and action is essential." And that "The whole delivery ... eliminate^) the possibility in the spectator's mind of it being a self-working trick; that is, a set procedure that, when followed, produces a set result. They should experience it as a magical effect that only the magician can produce through his spells and special powers ... ."

And isn't that the goal of any magical performance no matter the particular method or effect in use? This amazing and fun! book is a manual of how to achieve it in the most challenging circumstances of all, filled with larger, if subtle, lessons on almost every page. Gema Navarro recounts, in fact, how "by totally changing the structure and context of the most ordinary shuffles and of various ruses, Juan took magicians completely by surprise" when presenting this same material in "after dinner performances for magicians." There are even photos here of the maestro achieving such amazement at an extraordinary magical venue: the home of Herb and Phyllis Zarrow. The circle remains unbroken.

Verbal Magic • Juan Tamariz and Gema Navarro • 7" x 10" hardcover with dustjacket • 174 pages • includes 8 photographs

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